Monday, January 18, 2021

Interesting Interview: Carla Coupe

Carla Coupe was invested into the Baker Street Irregulars earlier this month, and I was taken by surprise when I heard her name. Not because I think she's unworthy of the recognition, quite the opposite. As long as I've known her, I've been under the assumption that she was already a member!

Carla recently took over as Head Light for the Beacon Society, and I'm very excited to see where her leadership takes an already fantastic organization.  She recently retired from Wildside Press, a publishing house that has put out some really great Sherlockian titles over the years, and has also done her fair share of Sherlockian writing, penning short stories for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine back in the day, and is an all-around mystery fan, writing two Agatha Award nominated short stories.  

You could see why I'd thought Carla was already invested.  She's definitely got the credentials!  But Carla is more than just her resume.  To know Carla is to love her.  Her no-nonsense attitude is quietly overshadowed by her smile makes you want to give her a big old bearhug!  Carla is wickedly funny and very friendly, a wonderful combination.  So let's enjoy our first Interesting Interview of 2021 with Carla Coupe!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Easy. Anyone interested enough in Sherlock Holmes to read/watch/listen to anything Sherlock Holmes related is a Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

The usual way, I suppose. I read my first story at around 10 and then devoured the Canon. In my early teens I dragged our “portable” B&W TV into my bedroom and balanced it on a swaying TV tray every Saturday night to watch the Rathbone and Bruce movies on the late-late-programming. For many years, although I still periodically re-read the Canon and watched the occasional Holmes movie, I focused more on general mysteries. In 2009, I was asked to join Peter E. Blau and Dan Stashower on the Diane Rehm show to discuss HOUN (my favorite), and that re-kindled my interest in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockians. I joined Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City in 2013 and traveled up to the NYC Birthday festivities the next year. From there it was all downhill.

What is your favorite canonical story?

HOUN. Not only for the delicious Holmes and Watson interactions, but also for the descriptions of Dartmoor and the splendid gothic atmosphere. My ASH moniker is “The Footsteps of a Gigantic Hound.”

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Tough question. There are so many, but I’ll choose Dana Cameron (The Giant Rat of Sumatra). In addition to being wicked smaht (yeah, she’s from Boston), she’s a talented writer and all ’round fascinating person. Buy her a good single malt and you’ll be entertained the whole evening.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I admire those who have the space and funds to be collectors, but since I’m in the midst of doing Swedish death cleaning…. Hmmmm. Probably the world and British events referenced throughout, many of which were current when Watson was penning the Canon. My graduate and undergraduate degrees are in British history, so mention a date or event and I start sniffing around like a bloodhound. I can’t help it.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I’m fascinated by domestic history and items, so much of which is ephemeral—re-used and re-purposed until it disintegrates. Fabric and cheap pottery, as examples. The only reason earlier periods are called the stone age and the iron age is because stone and iron have lasted to the present day, whereas cloth and leather and pottery have not. The lives of the subjugated (or oppressed, if you prefer) and especially the lives of women have often been ignored or minimized in traditional historical studies. There are many stories of women, or servants in general, to mine in the Canon, I wrote a pastiche about Agatha in CHAS, because I felt that Holmes’ use of her in the case was not his finest moment and she deserved better.

You transitioned from being a Sherlockian short story writer to a Sherlockian publisher with Wildside Press. How did your experiences as a Sherlockian differ on either side of the desk?

In addition to all the other elements required to be a decent editor, I became more particular about period authenticity. If you’re going to write an alternate history—steampunk, whatever—that’s fantastic and I say go for it. But it must be clear from the outset that this is what you’re writing. Non-period dialogue, items, events, and plots in a pastiche immediately throw me out of the story. Decide what you’re writing and if you want it to be authentic, do your research.

As the new head of The Beacon Society, what are your plans for the group?

I’m fortunate that the Head-Lights who came before we did so much of the real ground-work. We have many excellent programs in place: the Susan Z. Diamond Beacon Award, the Jan Stauber Grants, the Fortescue Scholarship Exams, and the Junior Sherlockian Society. We’ve recently added the R. Joel Senter, Sr. Essay Contest and Sherlock’s Spotlight, a gazette for young Sherlockians. One of my goals is to continue to expand support for and access to these programs. Like so many organizations, we’re keeping watch on the pandemic situation and will adapt our programs if possible and as necessary.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jeez, why don’t you ask me a difficult question? </sarcasm> What appeals to you? Pastiche? Scholarly article? Essay? A book I love that you can dip into at your leisure is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through The Year with Sherlock Holmes, by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney (Gasogene Books). A delightful way to progress through the year with meaty nuggets of canonical information.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I hope younger folk and those entering the fandom provide an impetus to keep things fresh with new groups, new leaders and influencers, and hopefully new takes on the Canon through pastiches, comics, graphic novels, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc. Of course we should celebrate the history of Sherlockians and their activities, but if we don’t pull in vigorous new blood, all that’s been built will fall into disuse and be forgotten, and that would be a shame.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Looking Over My Notes [NORW]

This wraps up my fourth year blogging at Interesting Though Elementary.  If you’ve been following along since the beginning, God bless your intrepid and patient soul.  I used to start off the year with Sherlockian resolutions and end each year with a review of how well I did and a separate post of all of the Sherlockian books I read in the year, but like the rest of the world in 2020, things changed.  So this will be my catch-all post for the year: a look back at Sherlockiana like one I've never seen before.

My biggest Sherlockian love is my home scion, The Parallel Case of St. Louis.  I won't take up too much space here going on and on about what a year we had, but if you're interested in those thoughts, I've posted it on our group's blog, The Parallelogram.

Looking back on 2020, I was a busy Sherlockian!  As if the day-to-day Sherlockian discussions on Twitter and keeping up with the Parallel Case of St. Louis's Facebook page weren't enough to keep me busy, I took on some big projects.  

Writing and Editing

For the past six years, I've been teaching a two-week unit on Sherlock Holmes to my fifth graders.  Over the past year and a half, I've worked on turning that into a book that would make some of the original canonical stories accessible to fourth to sixth grade readers, along with accompanying information that I present to my class.  After a ton of work and great feedback from non-Sherlockian teachers, I finally finished that project in November!  The publishing world slows down dramatically at the end of the year, so shopping this project around to literary agents will begin in earnest in January.  

And another book project wrapped up this year as well!  My friend, Peter Eckrich, reached out to me last year about doing something with the specifics of Sherlockian collecting, and over the following months, we were able to recruit some amazing folks to work with us.  During the first half of this year we finished up a great anthology on Sherlockian collecting titled The Finest Assorted Collection.  In this book, 27 Sherlockians have written essays about their specific niche collections.  Spending so much time working with these folks was one of the real highlights of my year and I found that I really love editing!  (Maybe not so much with my fifth graders, but Sherlockians are much easier to work with.)  The book was pitched and accepted by Wessex Press and is set for a publication in January 2022.  So even though Rebecca Romney cited it a few times in her Toronto talk a few weeks back, we will all have to wait a while to read about these interesting collections!

And speaking of editing, I got to work with some of my favorite Sherlockians on their own projects.  Bill Cochran, Heather Hinson, and Brad Keefauver all have some amazing things coming, and I feel very blessed that they let me have a peek behind the curtain in their creative processes.  

Another writing project included something I've been working towards for years.... I'm getting published in the Baker Street Journal!  An article I wrote on organized crime has been accepted for publication in 2021, which thrills me to no end.  If I never write another thing, I will have had something in the BSJ.  ...swoon...

Some other fun and exciting projects included a history of The Beacon Society for Ross Davies's amazing Baker Street Almanac, an article about Charlie Peace for The Serpentine Muse, a piece of fiction being accepted and held for future publication in the Sherlock Holmes Journal, an alternative take on A Study in Scarlet for The Watsonian, and an essay on curried mutton to an upcoming project that Margie Deck and Nancy Holder are heading up for Belanger Books, Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street.

And one of my pieces of work from last year was published this January, converging my two biggest interests, Sherlockiana and education.  I was very honored to be a part of the latest book in the BSI Professional Series, Education Never Ends: Educators, Education, and the Sherlockian Canon.  It debuted in the dealer's room of the BSI Birthday Weekend WHICH I GOT TO GO TO THIS YEAR!

Remember January?  It seemed so long ago....


I posted daily recaps of my excitement at being part of a huge weekend full of Sherlockians earlier in the year (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4), but thinking back on that trip can still make a smile creep across my face.  So, so many great people spending time together.  Whether it was formal presentations or chats in the hotel lobby, my first Birthday Weekend will always be a top Sherlockian memory for me.

Once all of the scions meetings went digital, I started out trying to go to as many  as I could, but as a teacher who has been bouncing in and out of remote learning for ten months now, I learned pretty quickly that there was no way to attend as much as I would like.  I just didn't have the stamina for it.  But man, did I enjoy the ones I got to go to and always look forward to what's coming up on the calendar, whether or not my eyes and psyche will allow me to attend.  

Other events had to be cancelled (Holmes, Doyle, and Friends, 221B Con) or postponed (Holmes in the Heartland), but others took to Zoom.  Scintillation of Scions set the standard with their Zoom format and happy hours, that was soon used by other fun events like Sherlockian Saturday at the Pratt.  

And 2020 saw my debut as a Sherlockian speaker as Elinor Gray shepherded me through fear of public speaking and I gave a talk at the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium.  Because of that presentation, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this year's Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota's Christmas Dinner.  Both audiences were absolutely lovely and made public speaking slightly less terrifying.  But they were both audiences full of Sherlockians, so of course they were great!

Interesting Interviews

Hands down, the most rewarding Sherlockian activity this year was posting interviews on this blog with Sherlockians that I find fascinating.  And judging from the comments on Twitter and Facebook, I'm not the only one that found these folks engaging.  There are so many Sherlockians out there that it's easy to overlook or not hear of some of the great energy happening in our hobby, and I have absolutely loved giving folks in the spotlight.  These have proved so popular that I bumped it up from one to two each month and plan to continue that pace into 2021.

January 2020: Elinor Gray

February 2020: Bob Katz

March 2020: Monica Schmidt

April 2020: Susan Rice

May 2020: Burt Wolder

June 2020: Jay Ganguly

June 2020: Laurie King

June 2020: Steven Doyle

July 2020: Mike McSwiggin

July 2020: Jacquelyn Morris

August 2020: Jerry Margolin

August 2020: Charles Prepolec

September 2020: Maria Fleischhack

October 2020: Mike Ranieri

October 2020: Julie McKuras

November 2020: Mark Jones

November 2020: Sonia Fetherston

December 2020: Crystal Noll

December 2020: Greg Ruby

Books Read

2020 gave me plenty of time to read, and I hit about 295 books and journals this year.  Obviously all of them weren't Sherlockian, and I won't bore you with all of them, but here's a quick synopsis:

30 stories from the Canon

31 issues of The Baker Street Journal

32 other journals including The Holmes and Watson Report, The Serpentine Muse, The Watsonian, Canadian Holmes, The Norwegian Explorers' Christmas Annuals, The Newspapers, Baker Street West

26 scholarly books

14 pastiche & parodies

12 books about Sherlockian history

...and 3 books from Doyle's Rotary Coffin, they defy categorization

2020 has definitely been a challenging year on many fronts, but looking back I am so grateful for the community of Sherlockians out there.  Everyone in this hobby has gone above and beyond to help one another out and keep our minds from the world outside.  Even though most of us spent the year using technology more than ever before, plenty of times we were able to say it's still 1895.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Interesting Interview: Greg Ruby

When the world went awry in March, Sherlockiana was put on pause.  You may have noticed that this is not the norm anymore, and that is thanks in large part to Greg Ruby.  Greg stepped in and quietly started running events and meetings via Zoom, happy to show any reticent Sherlockian that virtual meetings weren't scary.  If it weren't for Greg and a few other technologically adept Sherlockians out there, we may have reverted to sending telegrams to keep our Sherlockian activities alive!

So who is our hobby's Mr. Wizard?  First of all, Greg is an absolutely great guy.  Always happy to welcome folks to any conversation he's a part of, Greg's Sherlockian energy seems to know no bounds.  He's running THREE big scions, putting out an annual journal, and showing up to as many scion meetings as he can (of which he is a member of 23!).  And like I said, he's the man behind the curtain for so many major virtual events, including this year's Scintillation of Scions, A Saturday with Sherlock Holmes, and January's official BSI Birthday weekend events.  Greg is a beehive of Sherlockian activity, and one that doesn't get enough recognition for what he's done for us this year.  So, I think it's very fitting that I'm ending 2020's Interesting Interview series with the most important Sherlockian of 2020, Greg Ruby!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I consider anyone with a interest in Sherlock Holmes as a Sherlockian. My definition is somewhat broad to include fans of some of the recent movies and television shows, as well as pastiches.

I was at a Sherlockian meeting in pre-COVID times where a first-time attendee admitted to never reading one of the 60 stories but enjoyed watching Elementary episodes on television. Another attendee scolded that person telling them everything wrong, in their opinion, of the series. The first person never has returned to that club, but thankfully has attended other groups since and is working their way through the Canon.

Anything that introduces others to Sherlock Holmes is a good thing. I’m not particularly enamored with most pastiches but I know of several folks where that was their introduction to this wacky world of ours.

Of course, there are various levels of being a Sherlockian from the casual to the hardcore, and most settle into a level that suits them, which is great. Then there are the chronologists, but we’ll save that for another time….

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in Mrs. Raver’s reading class in fifth grade. With some reservation here, I now admit that it is the only thing I remember from that year, including having to memorize some poem to be later recited.

In the years that passed, I would pick up some related volumes – gathering enough so they took up an entire shelf on the bookcase in my first apartment. A friend gave me a copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street after seeing my shrine to Holmes. Still remember reading about the Baker Street Irregulars and playing the Game, thinking what a bunch of wackadoodles these folks were. There was no thought that 25 years later I would be dining with those wackadoodles annually.

Let’s fast-forward to Christmas of 2013. I severely broke my right ankle that day and would spend next 5+ months laid up in bed. A month before my accident, I rearranged my bookshelves to relocate my Holmes material to be within reach of my bed, otherwise it would have been Tom Clancy stories I would have been reading. Having some free time, I went online and discovered a Sherlock Holmes event was coming up in my area.

I would attend Scintillation of Scions that June, followed by my first meeting of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore a few days later. Each event / meeting that I would attend had other Sherlockians inviting me to attend other scion functions. By the end of that first year, I was travelling several hours away from Baltimore to northern New Jersey and other cities to talk about Sherlock Holmes with my new friends.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite of the 60 stories was also my first story – “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” so my fifth-grade reading class was not a total loss. In fairness, this was around the same time I had started collecting coins, and I was enthralled by the inclusion of a counterfeiting money element in the story. This was reinforced with my next story of “The Red-Headed League,” dealing with the possible theft of gold French coins. There was a letdown when I then read “The Speckled Band” and there were no references to coins or money in the tale.

Dan Payton of the Great Alkali Plainsmen likes to tell the story that I cornered him after his presentation during the summer 2019 conference of the Norwegian Exploders of Minnesota, where he made an offhand comment criticizing 3GAR. I pointed out two reasons why he was wrong.

Holmes first appeared on television in 1937. They had their pick of all 56 short stories and would obviously choose the best story for that first broadcast. They chose 3GAR. Likewise, when the Granada / Jeremy Brett series aired “The Mazarin Stone,” they combined it with 3GAR to salvage the episode.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

This is an unfair question in my opinion, as I have found every Sherlockian that I’ve met to be interesting. Since I have to answer with only one name, let’s go with my BSI 2019 classmate, Ira Brad Matetsky. IBM is a trial lawyer, based out of New York City, that I first met at the running of the 2015 Silver Blaze race at Saratoga (later leading us to be involved with recently published BSI volume Upon the Turf) where we had a wide ranging conversation that afternoon. I was amazed when I learned he was on the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee. An admirable Sherlockian with a wicked sense of humor in bad puns, he serves as the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, the literary society for Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout fans.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Being a coin collector, that was the first subset that appealed to me. In the years since becoming active in Sherlockiana, I have branched out into what I call the pop-culture media. I actively seek out the old-time radio recordings and film/TV appearances with references to Holmes, skipping most of the fan-made material that is appearing on YouTube.

During the pandemic, I’ve started looking for cartoon versions of Holmes – editorial, daily comic strips and comic books – where it’s obvious who they are referencing.

But the biggest interest are the Sherlockian friends that I’ve made over the last six years.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

The biggest research item are coins and other numismatic items with Sherlockian themes. When The Fourth Garrideb group was formed, we were aware of about 75 collectable items and thought it would be great to get up to 200 items. We are now at over 400 items cataloged.

In a related item, I have begun researching Louis Hector, the first actor to portray Holmes on television, with his stage and radio acting career.

I also enjoy doing some research regarding the old-time radio broadcasts. Before the pandemic, it appears that I stumbled across several recordings of the old Richard Gordon episodes from the early 1930s that have been forgotten. Hopefully, when things return to normal after the pandemic, I’ll be able to confirm these episodes.

For those of us outside of central Maryland, what is the difference between Baltimore's two scions, The Six Napoleons of Baltimore and the Sherlockians of Baltimore?

The quick answer is about 70 years. The Six Napoleons will be celebrating 75 years in September 2021 without any long hiatuses like many other groups have experienced over time. From its founding in 1946 until December 2017, the group was strictly males only for membership. After attending three meetings, attendees undergo a examination, lovingly (?) referred to as the Inquisition, where three Napoleons test the neophyte’s knowledge of the 60 stories. After the Inquisition, the now Postulant is expected to give a presentation at a future meeting and is then installed as a Napoleon.

The Sherlockians of Baltimore was formed in 2016 as I was being greedy – I wanted more Holmes than just a quarterly meeting of the Napoleons. Originally, I hoped to jumpstart the Carlton Club of Baltimore, the co-ed alternative to the Napoleons. Founded in 1971, the group had gone inactive before I came into the Sherlockian scene in 2014. After spending 18 months trying to track down the leadership of the Carlton Club and being frustrated at every turn, I brazenly announced a relaunch of the Carlton Club in February 2016. Within days of my announcement, word funneled down to me that they were still “active.” So, we changed gears, and launched the SOBs in May.

While I love the group names of the Speckled Band, the Copper Beeches, and other Sherlockian groups, I thought it be wise to have a straight-forward name of who and what we are to attract those not as familiar with the stories, and serve as a feeder system into the Napoleons and nearby Watson’s Tin Box.

Anyone who attends a SOB meeting is automatically considered a SOB and a member. After attending two physical meetings, they are issued a membership card so that they are now a “card-carrying SOB”. Giving a presentation, leading a story discussion or preparing a quiz earns the status of a “Certified SOB” with a Baltimore-themed moniker. As opposed to meeting on a weeknight at 6 pm, the SOBs gather on Saturdays at lunchtime in hopes of more attendees might be able to attend.

How did The Fourth Garrideb come about?

The early months of 2014 found me with lots of free time as I recuperated. While rereading the Canon, I remembered a conversation with Ed Rochette back during the 1994 American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Detroit. Ed was a longtime coin collector, who also served as a consultant to the Pobjoy Mint who had just a struck a series of Sherlock Holmes coins for the principality of Gibraltar. Ed had asked about an elongated cent my local coin club had rolled with a Sherlockian design (I had nothing to do with the design!). I promised Ed a sample and we went on to discuss forming a group of Sherlockian coin collectors. I was just starting my professional career and Ed was juggling several projects, so nothing happened until 2014 while I was stuck in bed.

I tracked down Bob Fritsch, a fellow longtime numismatist in New England who I also knew to be a Sherlockian, and bounced the idea off him. He liked the idea, so I arranged for a meeting space at the 2014 ANA event in Chicago. Seven of us crazy people showed up and joined on the spot, with Bob suggesting the name for our group. Six years later, we have over 100 members throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and South America.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jack Tracy’s The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana has been a lifesaver for me, explaining terms that I encounter while reading the Canon. A more fun recommendation, and a delightful read, is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney. Curious about what happens on a given day in the world of Sherlockiana? The book is my go to source before I attend any club meeting and has led me down many a research project.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

The world of Sherlockiana will still be growing strong in the next decade. It will be interesting to see how we continue to incorporate the virtual elements into events as we move forward. While it is a poor substitute for being face to face with friends, I am now spoiled by being able to dial into meeting and events to talk about Holmes with new friends internationally. I expect that many groups will try to work this technology into future events.

Likewise, with the remaining stories coming out of copyright protection in the next few year, I expect to see more pastiches and adaptions coming forward. If the Enola Holmes stories lead to more films and the long-promised Robert Downey Jr. third film happens, there will be a steady flock of new Sherlockians.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Interesting Interview: Crystal Noll

If you've been around Sherlockiana at all over the past ten years, you've heard of Crystal Noll.  Crystal is the co-founder of the wildly popular 221B Con and co-editor of The Serpentine Muse, the journal of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.  And that last sentence really shows her versatility in our hobby.  Crystal is in the forefront of new Holmes adaptations (she and Heather Holloway had a great interview talking about Enola Holmes on the Glitchy Pancakes podcast) but also embraces historical Sherlockiana.  

Her friendships with longtime Sherlockians show that old and new worlds can co-exist and have fun while doing so!  While Crystal is an absolute workhorse, she is also one of the most fun people out there.  Whether you're having a few drinks or engaged in a spirited conversation online, Crystal makes it fun.  So settle in and get ready for a wickedly smart and delightfully entertaining interview with a sparkplug of Sherlockiana, Crystal Noll!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

That is quite the question isn’t it? In fact, it has been the topic of many a debate in Sherlockian circles. 

Personally, I think that anyone who considers themselves a Sherlockian is one. Full stop. I know I’ll get some Twitter DM or Facebook message where someone disagrees with me, and that’s okay because many people consider being a Sherlockian at the core of their identity. And that is exactly my point. 

‘Sherlockian’ is a label that we claim or is granted to us, like mother, father, friend, scholar, T-bird, Pink Lady, Adventuress, Irregular, etc. If you’re so connected to it that you’re willing to hang it around your neck, then I assume you’ve got some sort of personal credentials and that you deserve it: even if those credentials are that you really like it.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I wasn’t lucky like all the people whose parents handed them a copy of the canon as a child and not being in any of the gifted classes, none of my teachers assigned Sherlock Holmes. So like so many memories in my adult life, it can be traced back to my unlikely friendship with Heather Holloway. 

We were returning to our alma mater, Georgia Southern University, to hear Angela Davis speak. Driving down I-16, Heather asks me if I know if our hotel has PBS, because there was a modern version of Sherlock Holmes airing that night. She just knew it wasn’t going to be any good, but had to see it anyway. One phone call later, and yes, the HoJo had PBS. 

We go to the fascinating talk and to hang out with friends after… here’s when you realize that we aren’t really good people. We lie to leave the get together early so we can rush back to the hotel and tune in. 

We weren’t even out of John Watson’s flat before I was hooked. 

Later, we went to the Waffle House, like you do in the south, for a late night dinner and to talk about the show. We were lamenting that we’d have to wait another week when I had my “eureka” type moment.

“This has already aired in the UK?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Heather.

“Well, we have the internet” I said. 

Don’t fret BBC executives who may be reading this. I promise that you have gotten so much of my monies… we’re good. Promise. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I actually have two, and my favorite is dependent on whatever mood I am in at the time. 

The first is DANC. I mean, what’s not to love about it? It’s got a cypher, two(ish) love stories gone wrong, AND a connection to organized crime, which has always fascinated me. 

The second is EMPT. For some people this is going to be something they are going to scroll past quickly because they’ve heard me say it before. I think we all connect with Sherlock Holmes because there is something or someone in the stories that we see a bit of ourselves in. 

Initially, for me was John Watson. While I was never, and will never be, a medical doctor or in the military, there is something about his personality and character that spoke to me. As I was reading EMPT I came to realize that Sebastian Moran was the antithesis of Watson, so it is no surprise that I became intrigued by this semi-one off character. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Oh bless your heart. You want only one.

Sheclockiana is full of interesting people and has given me so many friends (and so many wonderful memories), so picking just one is hard, but I am going to go with Roger Johnson. 

I don’t know how many people know, but on top of his being both a scholar and a gentleman, he is also the editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal and the curator of the Museum within the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue. Whenever I get back to London, I try to always make time to meet up with him and Jean Upton for a chat. It is definitely not to be missed.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I really am intrigued by the “Grand Game,” but not necessarily the way that it was originally intended to be played. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can tip my hat to the literary agent just as much as the next person, but I like to dig deeper, like many Sherlockians. Which leads to your next question…

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I love to spend my time researching Watson’s and Moran’s military lives. 

Recently, I have given a talk at Scintillation of Scions and at my local scion, Wisteria Lodge, about Dr. Watson going to war. Since then I have been asked to give one on the schooling and path a modern Watson would take. 

I’ve also found myself down the rabbit hole of tracking down Moran’s actual regiment(s) and his movements after being discharged before finding his way to that fateful night he crossed paths with Sherlock Holmes. 

You are one of the co-founders of the wildly popular 221B Con.  How did this convention come about?

Well, you see, it started with a Doctor Who convention called TimeGate… actually it was a Doctor Who and StarGate convention, but like so many of these events, they often offer other panels that are on topics that those fandoms are also interested in. 

A former BBC employee was giving a talk on Sherlock Holmes media adaptations. I remember walking out of that panel thinking that if I could know half of what he had forgotten about Sherlock Holmes, then I would be set for life. 

As the five original directors of 221B and one of our future staff members stood around and discussed the panel, we got to talking about what a Sherlock Holmes convention would have. And I don’t think any of us remember who said it, but someone made the statement “someone should start a Sherlock Holmes con.” Someone else replied, “why don’t we start a Sherlock Holmes con?”

By the time we left the hotel the next day we had a (really questionable) hotel contract, a domain name, multiple social media accounts, and a convention committee (also, no startup capital or any idea how to organize a con). 

And that, as they say, is history.  

On top of running a huge weekend like 221B Con, you also manage to co-edit The Serpentine Muse!  What goes into putting out issues of such a prolific journal?

Crying mostly. Actually, I am totally kidding. I just wanted to say that. 

Seriously though, it is an absolute honor for Heather (see? There she is again y’all) and me to co-edit the Muse. So many amazing women have worked amongst those pages, from the days they sat around Evelyn Herzog’s place and literally had to cut out and tape the entries into a journal format through the days Marilynne McKay and Susan Diamond passed over the reins, blood, sweat, tears (and booze from what I hear) have been poured into that journal. 

And I am not really sure whether I cried more the day that Evelyn sent Heather and me the email over the invite us to become Adventuresses or the moment she sent the first issue we completed off to the printers. Though I digress, you asked about the process. 

With a typical issue, lovely Sherlockians send us articles, toasts, quizzes, art, or photos that they would like to see included in a future edition of the Muse. Heather or I, mostly Heather, will check it out and, if it's right for us, slate it for publication. 

When it comes time to start the next issue, which I am sure other editors will agree with us, seems to be right about the time you finish the current issue, we check to see what we have available. We attempt to offer a variety of both short and longer pieces so that there is something to sink your teeth into and palate cleansers alike. Whimsical is always a word we try to keep in mind. If we can make the issues keep to some sort of theme, even better, but that rarely has happened for us. 

Each piece is copied into a Google Doc where Heather proofs and gently edit the pieces if needed. If larger changes need to be made, we reach back out to the authors with our requests, which in most cases is usually to break something into multiple parts. We really try not to do more than fix the occasional word if we can help it. 

At this time, yours truly, begins to pull together some of the Editor’s Commonplace Book (mostly the calendar and the mentions that get a run every time) and placing the pieces into the blank pages on InDesign.

Once I know how much space the articles will take up, we add in the pictures or any graphics that you see when you open the pages of The Serpentine Muse. 

The next step is to fill out our section of the ECB, since at this time we know more about what space we get to use to tell you about either happenings within the Sherlockian world or in general, what we want to babble about that issue. 

Heather will then proof it once again; I think to make sure I haven’t accidentally left half of someone’s article or toast beyond the bleed (but that hasn’t happened yet), and then we send it off to Evelyn to go through with her fine-toothed comb. And let me tell you, if you ever need something proofed, she’s the one you should go to. I have no problem admitting that she makes whatever you see when you open that cover better. 

At that point, final tweaks are made, and she sends it off to be printed. The magic from there to when you pull it out of the mailbox is all her. You should ask her about it one day (like how I squeezed in a second Sherlockian that people might find interesting?).

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is the question I think I will be judged for more than all others. LOL

If you’re into True Crime, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson is fantastic. 

I’m madly in love with the Timothy Wilde series by Lyndsay Faye. If you dive in, tell my boy Valentine “hey.” The Gods of Gotham is the first in the trilogy. 

If you want to stay in the Sherlock pastiche realm, The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas is one of my absolute favorites. Book One is A Study in Scarlet Women.

Really, I will put any book I am reading down or rush through it to have my hands empty when Lyndsay or Sherry release a new book. I just love their styles. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Truth be told, in five years, I see Sherlockiana looking like it does now, but with a younger demographic. 

Ten years, well ten years is where you are really going to see the change. I think people have begun to realize that Sherlockiana isn’t the boys club that it used to be. The wonderful women who have come before us have paved the way for younger generations. Add to that the changing representations of Sherlock Holmes in the media, which means that more women, non binary, POC, and other demographics will feel they are more accepted. IMHO, that’s what it is starting to look like now. It just hasn’t made it to the larger circles yet. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Interesting Interview: Sonia Fetherston

I know I can sound like a broken record in these introductions, but I am such a fan of this week's interviewee.  Sonia Fetherston is one of the nicest Sherlockians I have ever met, and on top of that she is so knowledgeable, and you can tell she really enjoys spending time with the Canon and other Sherlockians.  I was a bundle of nerves at my first BSI Dinner this year, but I was lucky enough to sit next to Sonia.  She was right there the whole time and made me feel so welcome and made sure I was right in the mix of the evening's conversation.  In fact, not getting to see Sonia at the 2021 Dinner is one of the things I'm going to miss the most because of the changes due to Covid-19.

I also got to work with Sonia this year on an upcoming anthology on Sherlockian collecting, and I was blown away by the knowledge and passion she has for this hobby of ours.  She has written two books for the BSI Press, both biographies of influential Irregulars: Prince of the Realm: The Irregular Life of James Bliss Austin (2014) and Commissionaire: Julian Wolff and His Baker Street Irregulars (2020) and two BSJ Christmas Annuals, Barrymore in Baker Street (2012), and A Woman of Mystery (2017).  If you've read any Sherlockian journals, you've probably seen her byline more than a few (dozen) times, and you can always count on Sonia to brighten your Twitter timeline with canonical quotes and suggestions on who to follow.  

So settle in, and get ready for an interview that it's guaranteed to make you smile and feel like you're talking with an old friend, Sonia Fetherston: 

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

The root of the word “Sherlockian” is “Sherlock” Holmes himself. He’s a character who is so sturdy that he transcends time, place, age, gender – there are few, if any, limits. Same goes for Sherlockians. We are people from all backgrounds who celebrate Holmes in every form: in the original Canon, in the creative imaginings of others, and in ourselves. Holmes is a creature of the page, the screen and canvas, the audio play. He is present in pastiche and parody, and absolutely in the “headcanon.” Sherlockians are people who accompany Holmes and Watson on adventures… wherever that may happen to take us. 

Sherlockians are creative, bright, warm, and funny. We come from all walks of life including teachers, medical professionals, lawyers, retirees, pest exterminators, sales reps, journalists, teenagers, entertainers…you name it. It’s a hobby, and it’s also a calling. When I get lost, as we all do from time to time, I’m confident another Sherlockian will appear, pull out a roadmap, and help me along my way.

With friend Bill Barnes, BSI of Sydney, Australia during a visit to Oregon a few years ago on the Oregon coast, where Captain Cook stopped on his way to (or was it from?) Australia. Sonia is a long-distance member of the Sherlockian group the Sydney Passengers.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

When I was little my dad often worked at home so the need to be quiet was drilled into me. I usually ended up sitting in front of the television with the sound turned off. In retrospect this was a great way for a kid to develop an imagination, puzzling out what might be happening on that little screen. Channel 12 seemed to air nothing but old Rathbone/Bruce movies on weekends so I got to see them, over and over, for years. In silence! Rathbone intrigued me so much. On the outside he was very elegant and poised. But with the sound off, even I could see there was this barely-suppressed whirl of energy, impudence, even flashes of anger. Little Sonia would just quietly take it in without ever knowing for real about Sherlock Holmes, or detection, or logic. I don’t believe I actually heard Rathbone’s clipped accent until I was well into my teen years.

As for reading the Canon….that began when I was about eleven years old. One day my mother came home from the store with a Sherlock Holmes book. It seems that was a bonus if you bought ten dollars’ worth of groceries, or whatever. I can’t remember which I tackled first, The Hound of the Baskervilles, or “The Speckled Band.” But I remember being scared absolutely witless. And I was hooked! I still have that book. 

Meeting one of the great police officers in Moriarty, New Mexico during one of her self-described quirky road trips.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“A Case of Identity” is the whole package. It came along so early, yet it set the stage for everything that was to come. The cozy 221B Baker Street sitting room. The easy friendship between Holmes and Watson. A client in distress. A tour de force “reading” by Holmes. A real creep of a villain. Lots of pithy lines. Even the props are all there, like the magnifying glass and pipe. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

All Sherlockians are a joy. I’ve never come across one who isn’t! But to narrow it down….hmmm. I’m really keen on some of the early women who were involved, people like Helene Yuhasova and Esther Longfellow in the 1940s, and Mary Shore Cameron and Ruth Berman in the 1950s. They were brilliant and accomplished: writers, collectors, scion founders. Because of overt bias against women at that time they couldn’t hope to become members of the Baker Street Irregulars. But, bless them, they opened the door. Their talent and dignity made it possible for other women, like me, to succeed later.

Presenting on the topic of women Sherlockians at Portland State University.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Every subset is interesting. Every last one. If people try to tell you otherwise, don’t believe them.

Book-signing in New York

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I research quite a lot, and then I write. I’ve published something like twenty-five papers in The Baker Street Journal, plus many others in Sherlockian magazines, anthologies, and textbooks. I’ve written a couple of books, and a couple of BSJ Christmas Annuals.

For Sherlockian purposes, I enjoy biographical pieces. It’s fun to identify people who came before, with an aim of introducing them to a new generation. I have one piece that’s coming up in the BSJ about an utterly forgotten comedian whose heyday was more than a hundred years ago. He created a parody of Sherlock Holmes that was THE hit of the season in Chicago, which was a great big theater town in those days, second only to Broadway. The great Al Jolson happened to be in the audience on opening night, and even he couldn’t get enough of this comedian. I found old publicity stills and theater reviews, plus the original script, buried deep in dusty archives. I got to tell this man’s story, to revive his work, for today’s audience. It’s an honor, and a responsibility.

At a BSI Weekend in New York some years ago I was pulled aside by a twinkling young fellow. At the time I didn’t have a clue who he was. He said, “I know your work. You research vintage newspapers and magazines.” He recognized that about me because he does, too. Turns out he was Mattias Bostrom, the great Swedish Sherlockian who’s edited a whole shelf of books concerning Arthur Conan Doyle’s many outings in the press. Mattias and I became great friends because we’re such kindred spirits.

Archive-divers: Sonia and fellow “Irregular,” Swedish Sherlockian Matthis Bostrom, BSI at a dinner in New York.

No matter what the day's turmoil is on Twitter, your Canonical quotes are the one fixed point in my timeline.  How do you choose the quotes that you post?

Thank you! I love pulling snippets from the Sherlockian Canon and “Tweeting” them each day. Some are humorous, some are high drama, and some just tug at the heartstrings. People often get in touch to tell me one of the quotes inspired them to read, or re-read, the story it came from. How cool! I often include photos with the quotes, pictures I take of Holmesian odds and ends I have around my house. Here’s a funny story: once one of my Twitter followers showed up on my front doorstep and spent a couple of hilarious hours on a scavenger hunt. She searched the rooms for Holmes objects I’d Tweeted pictures of over the years. Every time she found, say, the Star Trek Geordie/Watson bobblehead doll, or the 1970 Sherlock ash tray, she would absolutely squeal with delight! 

As for choosing the quotes, each day is different. Sometimes I find inspiration in that morning’s headlines. Sometimes I start with a single word – like “griffin,” which, by the way, only appears in one of the Canon’s stories, in “Shoscombe Old Place” – and just follow where that single word will lead me. Often, though, they’re lines that resonate personally. My own favorite quote is from “The Adventure of the Empty House,” when, after Holmes’s hiatus of three years, Watson settles into a familiar happy place:

“It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, I found myself seated beside

him in a hansom, my revolver in my pocket, and the thrill of adventure in my heart.”

Who wouldn’t want to be right there with them?

With the charming Canadian Bob Coghill, BSI. Sonia lives in Oregon, and they most often meet up halfway, in Seattle, where they are both active members of the local scion society “The Sound of the Baskervilles,” which formed 40+ years ago on a boat in Puget Sound.

Your Sherlockian card collection is well-known.  How did you start out collecting such a specific item?

Many Sherlockians will have a half-dozen Holmes-inspired greeting cards stashed with the rest of their stuff. A couple of weeks ago I was helping Rebecca Romney prepare material for the 2020 Cameron Hollyer lecture she’s giving, and her topic is collecting. I had all of my greeting cards spread around the floor, and just out of curiosity I counted them. To my surprise there were almost 500 different examples, dating back more than a century! And counting…yesterday I bought five more from a man in England. In another year or two I will be donating them all to the University of Minnesota’s Sherlock Holmes collections.

All this came about when I noticed an advertisement aimed at “crafty” people – scrapbookers – people who play with scissors and glue, for goodness sake – suggesting they should buy old greeting cards and cut them to smithereens. The card in the ad was a 75 year-old valentine with Sherlock Holmes examining a big red heart through his magnifying lens. This was outrageous on two fronts. How dare you destroy this beautiful old thing, and how dare you do that to the Great Detective? So of course I bought the card myself in order to save it. Then I bought another, and another. Probably a majority of the cards I have are from the 1930s and 1940s, coinciding with the rise of popular films about Sherlock Holmes. Over the years I’ve developed a little network of dealers who help me watch when rare Holmes cards come on the market. I have Sherlockian greeting cards for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Mother’s and Father’s Day. I have thank you cards, and friendship cards, and birthday cards – even some unusual old postcards. The only type of card that I don’t have is a Sherlockian sympathy card, but if one is out there I will find it! It’s likely there are items in my collection that are the only remaining examples of their kind.

My friend Jerry Margolin has really inspired and encouraged my collecting. Of course, he is the pre-eminent collector of original artwork with a Sherlock Holmes theme.

With Rosane MacNamara, BSI and Jerry Margolin, BSI as we tour Jerry’s extensive collection of Sherlockian art.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Besides the Canon itself? Well, it’s probably sacrilegious to say this, but I really dig Samuel Rosenberg’s old book, Naked is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes (Bobbs Merrill, 1974). It’s a work of literary detection, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and somewhat not. The author leads us through the conscious and unconscious ways in which Arthur Conan Doyle composed the Holmes Canon. A bit of what Rosenberg came up with still outrages the orthodox, so don’t get me started on “The Red-Headed League”! But I do very much enjoy lit crit, and I’ve always appreciated this volume.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Time for my turban and crystal ball. 

Obviously, technology will be important. We’ve gotten a taste of its potential because of the COVID pandemic. Suddenly, scion societies (and now the BSI itself) are gathering on Zoom and other platforms, rather than in person. It’s an opportunity to include many more people. This year my home scion has hosted lots of virtual visitors from across the country (even from other countries) because our monthly meetings are on Zoom. In a few weeks I’ll be the guest speaker at an upcoming Zoom meeting with a scion society on the East Coast, and I don’t even have to leave my home to be with them. Technology is such a useful way for Sherlockians to connect.

And speaking of technology, I expect that quite soon we’ll see Sherlockian magazines and journals cease their paper-and-ink publishing and go all-digital. It’s cost-effective, and eliminates most delivery problems. As a researcher and writer – more important, as a reader – I like the notion that material will be even more widely available, and more convenient, for everybody.

Sherlock Holmes embraced technology in his time: typewriters, telegraphy, cameras, telephones, fingerprints, and so on. We can, too!

Catching up with old friends Don Hobbs, BSI and Russell Merritt, BSI at the Yale Club.